Colleen is attracted to music's energy, and its power to help people communicate and express themselves. Being where the live music is, is her lifeline: “Whatever it is, you can’t live without music… I like a beat and I like to get up and dance.” Many Sunday afternoons were spent at the Regal in Crouch Street, Colchester, seeing live acts in the early careers of Dickie Valentine, David Whitfield, and Shirley Bassey. These days Colleen recommends Newham's Brick Lane Music Hall as the place to go!
|Interview date||26th October 2016|
|Interview source||National Jazz Archive|
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Interviewer: So, Colleen, you’ve been talking to folk about--
Colleen: --Mick, is his name Mick?
Colleen: Nick. Well, I’ve been talking to him, had him laughing. Told him where to go for decent music. And, you can’t live without music. Whatever it is, you can’t live without music. Years ago, I mean I’m seventy-five now, in Crouch Street - I don’t know if you know Colchester?
Interviewer: Not very well at all, no.
Colleen: In Crouch Street, we had a cinema called the Regal. On a Sunday afternoon, they had live acts. Dickie Valentine, David Whitfield, Shirley Bassey’s been down when - not as she is now, when she was, I suppose, more or less starting out.
Interviewer: When was this? Early 60s? Or a little bit earlier than that?
Colleen: Well I was a teenager, 19, 20s. A long time ago. And yeah it was fantastic, we used to go down there [on a] Sunday afternoon. Screaming Lord Sutch was another one. Joe Brown, I think he was there. And when I was a child, there was a show there; do you remember someone called Tessie O’Shea?
Interviewer: I can’t confess to actually remembering Tessie O’Shea, no.
Colleen: She was a big woman, she used to sing. My parents took me there…my parents took me there to the show and then they took me out and she started stripping off. They didn’t realise she was a stripper as well as [a] singer [laughter]. That was fun, I remember that. Yes, we’ve had some live shows here but I suppose financially it isn’t viable now.
Interviewer: So this was a sort of theatre or a cinema but also--
Colleen: --A theatre as well--
Interviewer: --A theatre.
Colleen: In those days they used to have live bands you know, in the pit, live bands to accompany whoever was on the stage. I loved it, I loved going there. And now, I go up to London regularly for the music, for the music shows. Have you heard – I’ve been talking to Nick about this and he wanted to hear about it again today – have you heard of Brick Lane Music Hall?
Interviewer: Brick Lane Music Hall? I’ve heard of Brick Lane. I didn’t know there was a music hall there.
Colleen: It started off in Brick Lane.
Colleen: Vincent Hayes is in charge of it. But it’s in Silvertown now, behind City Airport, in Newham. Newham council do it. It’s a converted church. And I’ve been up there about fifteen times with various clubs that I belong to. And we’re going on 22nd of December, a crowd from here, we’re going. A three course lunch and the show, yes. I got my ticket today.
Interviewer: Do you know who’s on the bill for the show?
Colleen: Oh, there’s the same cast.
Interviewer: Oh, is it?
Colleen: They manage it. They manage it for Newham council. And it’s a converted church. The memorial is in the grounds. Newham council, they have restored the memorial and what they’ve done there is fantastic. And inside – you have to see what they’ve done inside. And every year I go up to Thursford. Do you know Thursford?
Interviewer: No, I don’t. Colleen: Other side of Fakenham in Norfolk.
Colleen: The coach usually stops in Swaffham, where we stop for about an hour and three quarters, have lunch, and then go on to Thursford. It’s not a musical, it’s not a pantomime: it’s Thursford. And they have…part of the performance … do you know A Carousel? They have that in the performance.
Interviewer: Oh, okay.
Colleen: And the stage is almost as long as that café, the length of that café. What goes on one end, goes on the other. And the organist comes down from Blackpool every year. When they started, the cast live[d] in tents in fields but now they house them in houses, you know, lodges in various houses around the village. And I’ve been there in the summertime, like behind the scenes – you should see the costumes and everything. You know traction engines? You ought to see those. They’re like brand new, they really are like brand new up there. It’s right out in the fields, it’s nowhere. You wouldn’t think anything was there. You go up this lane, the coach goes up this lane – hopefully there’s not a coach coming the other way, because there’s no room for them to pass – and it’s fantastic, it really is. [00:05:50]
Interviewer: Do you go to any sort of regular musical events? Is there any sort of clubs around here?
Colleen: There’s Mercury, there’s Ipswich – Wolsey at Ipswich, I go to. But I have to go by car, get some friends to get together and we go by car. Someone drives. Or whatever’s on here. I do go to London quite a lot. Whilst I’m able to move around, I will. I will go up there. But it mustn’t interfere with my tennis.
Interviewer: So, your sort of musical interests are the show-type music really is it?
Colleen: I like a beat and I like to get up and dance. Whatever it is, I like to get up and dance.
Interviewer: That must have been the downside, I presume, of the theatre here – or did people dance in the aisles, as it were?
Colleen: Yeah, yeah--
Interviewer: --Really? --
Colleen: --Yes, we used to go in the aisles and dance. Johnny Dankworth, Cleo Laine, I remember Ella Fitzgerald, I remember those. You just feel as if you’ve got to get up and dance, you know? And music is…you communicate through music. If you’ve got Down’s syndrome or autistic, you communicate.
Interviewer: Were there any ballrooms here or dance venues here?
Colleen: Oh many, many, many years ago we had something called the Corn Exchange. It’s not there now; now it’s all gone now. That was many years ago. When I was 19, 20, I went up to Yorkshire and they had what was called the working men’s club, the Mecca dance halls, they had the stage, the turntable. Oh, I loved it up there, I didn’t want to come down! Wakefield and whatever. I had my 21st birthday party up there.Oh it was fantastic! Different atmosphere, you’d go in and people were different.
Colleen: I don’t know if they’ve got it now, but that was fantastic up there. They really were into live music then in those days. The bands…you know, they had a couple of bands on a night. If I wasn’t on duty, I was out every night. It was lovely, fantastic. You don’t get people doing it these days, they’re like this, if you know what I mean.
Interviewer: I do. This is one of the things that we’re interested in. The jazz generation, [to] coin a phrase, people had to set up clubs or organise dances or do whatever it was or make a special effort to access music but of course the younger generation can just click away on a--
Colleen: --I went to Leeds, I went to Leeds a lot but I imagine in this day and age it’s too expensive to pay…. I mean, what’s his name now? He’s a tenor… Alfie Boe. He started off as an operatic singer but he’s now gone down to a group singer. He used to have an orchestra and whatever, but travelling, touring - it’s expensive. It must be. So he’s got a little group of about six, eight and that’s how he goes now, he’s cut it right down. And I suppose it boils down to money.
Interviewer: Yeah, sure. Sure.
Colleen: It does, doesn’t it? He still sings. Maybe he goes…he does the musicals. I liked his ‘Bring him home,’ but…I don’t think he’ll ever go back to the big orchestras unless he’s booked for the Albert Hall or something like that. I’ve been up there as well. Oh I love it, I love travelling around doing things. I’m mad.
Interviewer: What sort of music did you listen to at the Albert Hall? Was that the sort of orchestral stuff?
Colleen: Yes. I don’t mind. Michael Ball, anything. As long as it’s music, any of it.
Interviewer: People do seem to fall into one of two categories I’ve tended to notice; either people are very specific about they only like a particular type of music--
Colleen: --I like country and western--
Interviewer: --traditional jazz or other--
Colleen: --I like country and western. I don’t like too classical music. Some of it I like, not too classical. As long as it’s got a rhythm, a beat, you can get up and dance. Enjoy it. Whatever it is, enjoy it. With music, you can communicate with people. Do you know what I mean? I’ve been up [to] André Rieu… I’ve been up to…it was Wembley. I got up in the aisle, I was dancing away. I didn’t care. There were six coaches from Colchester going up that day. Six. He’s very popular.
Colleen: Yes, he’s fantastic.
Interviewer: Lovely to talk to you, Colleen, and thank you very much for that.